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Yankton man gears up to lead the South Dakota Senior Games

January 7, 2019

YANKTON, S.D. (AP) — Yankton County Register of Deeds Brian Hunhoff has had a number of titles throughout his life.

One of them is “Gold Medalist” in the South Dakota Senior Games.

This year, he’s assuming the role of president of the games.

Hunhoff told the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan a little about the history of the games.

“It’s a yearly statewide sports competition for people over 50,” Hunhoff said. “The athletes compete in various age divisions. The games were started in 1984 by the South Dakota Department of Social Services to motivate older folks to exercise more. State legislators killed the funding in 1996, but supporters overcame that existential challenge by forming a Board of Directors to keep the event going. For the last 22 years, we’ve paid the bills with donations, sponsorships and very modest entry fees.”

Currently, the organization hosts 30 different sports. Nearly 700 athletes participated in the state games in Sioux Falls.

It was an activity that Hunhoff wanted to participate in.

“I became aware of Senior Games when I was 45 or 46; it looked like fun,” he said. “Unlike most people, I actually looked forward to turning 50 ... so I could participate in Senior Games.”

He said the Senior Games have become very meaningful to him for a number of reasons.

“Fitness, friends and fun would be the short answer,” he said. “It’s less about winning medals and more about what Senior Games can do for your quality of life. We promote the power of aging actively. Too many people get their kicks from staring at a screen these days. It’s not healthy. They need to get out of their recliners and do something physical to get their heart rate up. For some, Senior Games provide that spark to go outside, put one foot in front of the other and get moving.”

Hunhoff doesn’t see age as an excuse for being inactive.

“People say they’re too tired, too busy, too old, or whatever, for exercise,” he said. “None of those excuses hold water. Just get started. Don’t be defined only by the date on your birth certificate. Think younger than you really are.”

Over the years, Hunhoff has become increasingly involved with the group, culminating in his election as president.

“We have an 18-member board of directors from all over the state who elected me president. I’m the first Yankton person to head it up,” he said. “I joined the board eight years ago and found it to be a dedicated group. The job doesn’t pay anything. It actually costs money because directors pay for their gas and meals when we have meetings. It’s really a labor of love — a shared belief in the value of Senior Games.”

He added that the appointment was an honor.

“I was glad the other 17 board members had faith in me to keep our ship steered in the right direction,” he said. “Hopefully, I won’t hit any icebergs!”

Hunhoff had been vice president of the group over the last two years and will serve a two-year term as president.

He said he aims to keep the organization strong in the coming years.

“Our state games are in Watertown for the next two years, so I want to continue the good momentum we established in Sioux Falls and Aberdeen since 2015,” he said. “I plan to attend the 10 regional meets next summer. Most of those are on Saturday, so it’s doable. Other goals are starting the search for a new executive director and adding some new blood to our board, which had a few people step down.”

Hunhoff said the games help contribute to the health of participants.

“Our health is vitally important as we age,” he said. “Exercise is the most important thing we can do. It reduces nearly all causes of death, improves our mood and even has long-term beneficial effects on our brain. The Senior Games provide a good long-term goal to train for, but real fitness progress is made with smaller, shorter-term goals. I tell people to start slowly with a half-mile walk or light lifting. Write how much you lifted and how many reps. Write how far and how fast you walked. Documentation is important so you can see the progress.”

He added that he’s drawn inspiration from another participant in the games.

“A person I use as an example is Don Phillips, a retired veterinarian from Sioux Falls,” he said. “At our state games in September, Don sprinted 100 meters in 17.6 seconds, did 11 chin-ups, and held an 8-minute plank with perfect form. Those are good numbers for any age, but Don is 88! Don reminds me of that George Bernard Shaw quote: ‘The best thing in life is to die young, but delay it as long as possible.’

“We don’t jump as high or run as fast as we did in our 20s,” Hunhoff said, “but I’m convinced there is value in doing those things as well as physically possible into our 60s, 70s, and 80s.”

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Information from: Yankton Press and Dakotan, http://www.yankton.net/

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